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Unplug to Get Connected

Posted Sep 13 2011 1:14pm

This was originally posted on the Get Well Grounded Blog (, but I thought I'd repost here.  

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “You have to spend money to make money”.  There’s certainly some truth to that.  Here’s another one for ya:  you have to unplug to stay connected.  No doubt.  What do I mean?…

People who’ve known me for a while are keenly aware of my resistance to embracing technology. It’s not that I don’t appreciate all the new tools we have or see the potential benefits of it all.  I do.  I also feel nostalgia for a simpler, calmer, less plugged-in time.  And I worry that we’re becoming completely dependent on all our gadgets and electronic communications.  In the interest of full disclosure, a few facts from my past… I used a Brother word processor until my last semester in college when  my parents  rocketed me into the computer age with a graduation gift: my first computer.  I don’t even think I used email until that last semester.  It took me years (after my friends had theirs) to cave in and get my first cell phone.  And, even after I got it, I kept a land line for 5 years, on principle.  I dug in my heels about Facebook (never thought I’d be on there) until my webmaster gave me a swift kick in the a$$ about social media in business.  And, I just got my first smartphone 2 months ago, even though this little piece of technology makes a ton of sense for a web-based business owner.  Yep, I can be stubborn.

But it’s more than stubbornness.  My hesitance also comes from inner wisdom.  I have a bit of an addictive personality and I can get easily absorbed in certain things, and social media, computers, and smartphones can be major vices if you’re not careful.  Think about how often you check your e-mail.  How much time do you spend on Facebook or Twitter?  If your cell phone rings, do you answer it without thinking?  I teach at a university and my students believe that it’s okay to check email, text message, etc., during class.  This one still shocks me, and doesn’t fly in  my  classroom!  Why do we need to be so accessible?  It’s too much.  I’m an open person and I love spending time with people, but this society of electronic “connectedness” is in many ways making us less productive, invading our privacy and stripping us of our moments of solitude.  Why are we so afraid to be alone with our own thoughts?  And if we  want  alone time, we have to schedule it!  It didn’t used to be that way.

During my final year in grad school, I went on a 5-day vacation to the Yucatan peninsula.  I stayed in a biosphere reserve, slept in a hut by the ocean, and there was no electricity (except in the kitchen building where they made us the most wonderful fresh food!).  I turned off my cell phone when I boarded the plane, left it in my bag the whole time, and didn’t check messages until the day after I returned home.  That vacation was the beginning of some serious lifestyle changes to come.  I returned home feeling refreshed and peaceful, and it did not go unnoticed.  My friends kept commenting on how different my energy was.  My reactions to all the normal frustrations were so different (my stress response had shifted).  Granted, some of this came from taking my first real vacation, 5 days with great people in a beautiful place, and the healing power of the ocean.  But I know that  getting unplugged was a hugely important piece of the relaxation and transformation.

For some of you, 5 days without answering the phone, checking emails or text messages, and generally being “connected” with people may seem uncomfortable or even impossible.  So let me share this.  After my Mexico vacation, I checked my phone and I had a few messages and missed calls.  I returned them over the next few days.  There were no problems and everyone was fine waiting for the returned calls.  I checked my e-mail and there were a lot of messages to sort through.  It was a bit overwhelming at first, but I learned something really cool.  I had forgotten to set an autoresponder, so people were wondering why I wasn’t getting back to them.  No emergencies.  Nothing serious.  It’s just that people were so used to me getting back to them within hours (sometimes minutes) that they were confused by my delayed response.  I had a few messages marked  urgent.  I wasn’t able to respond to those ‘urgent’ messages while I was away, but there were no tragic consequences.  Everything had been taken care of without me.  People could survive and function without me for 5 days.  Go figure.  Understanding that was so freeing!  From that moment on, I started choosing one weekend day each month to unplug.  I would turn off my phone, turn off my computer, and make no plans.  On these unplugged days, I’d curl up and read an entire book, play outside with my dog, cook something new, and do whatever else came up.   Ironically,  unplugging allowed me to  recharge  and to  feel more connected  with myself, my environment, and the world.

These days, I spend a lot of time on the phone and on the computer.  I love what I’m doing, but there are times when I feel overstimulated, overly accessible, and underconnected.  It’s time to reinstitute my unplugged days.  Maybe that sounds great to you too.  Maybe it sounds like too much too soon.   Here are a few ways you can unplug a little and take back your  you time  in your daily life.   See if any resonate with you…

  • Start checking e-mail only once or twice a day.  You can help your contacts deal with your new-found freedom by setting an autoresponder to let them know you’ll be checking in twice a day in an effort to increase your productivity, and that you’ll be in touch shortly. People can cope.  Trust me.
  • Set a limit on your Facebook/Twitter/G+ time.  Maybe you can move (slowly, over time) from checking in hourly(?) to checking in every other day?
  • If you have e-mail notifications/alerts on your phone, turn them off.  Very little in life is that  urgent.
  • Turn your phone off during certain times of the day.  Begin with phone-free meals?
  • Tone down your multitasking.  Women are especially guilty of multitasking – we’re better at it and we have a huge array of demands on our time.  Just because we’re better at it than others doesn’t mean it’s a good thing (and “better than” doesn’t mean “good”).  If you focus on one thing at a time, you’ll do a better job and you’ll get it done much faster.  So stop switching back and forth between the paper you’re writing or the file you’re reading and your e-mail.  The e-mail can wait.  In fact, give e-mail its own special time and fully focus on that too.
  • Plan a Monthly Unplugged Day – Establish your own day each month to unplug from your phone, your computer, and your busy schedule.  Give yourself time to just be where you are, sit with your own thoughts, and get connected with yourself and your environment.
  • Plan an Unplugged Vacation (like my Mexico trip).

Do you need to get unplugged?   Any of these sound familiar?  (I’ve done ‘em all)

  • You read your friend’s e-mail message and, instead of hitting reply, you look for the “Like” button (FB).
  • You start working on a project, but take frequent Facebook or e-mail breaks.
  • You keep several windows open simultaneously on your computer, so you can switch back and forth often.  (I wonder if ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Self-Reliance’ would ever have been written if Facebook had existed a couple hundred years ago?)
  • Your attention span is, shall we say…challenged.
  • You’ve had the urge to check your phone for messages while you’re spending time with friends.  Don’t the people we’re with in person deserve our attention?
  • You’ve checked your e-mail at least once since you started reading this article.
    (Hee hee.  I only checked mine once while writing it!  Yup, it’s a process.)
If you create your own intentions and rituals to help you unplug, I promise you’ll end up more, not less, connected with the people in your life (including yourself).  eat well.  live well.  be well.   get well grounded.
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